Mike Repole's STAY THIRSTY (Bernardini) rallied to the lead in midstretch and drew clear late in Saturday's $250,000 Gotham S. (G3), opening his three-year-old season with a 3 1/4-length victory over the inner track at Aqueduct. A well-regarded prospect for the Kentucky Derby (G1), the Todd Pletcher-trained colt took a big step toward the starting gate at Churchill Downs with his first stakes win.

Runner-up in the Hopeful S. (G1) and a well-beaten fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) last year, Stay Thirsty was heavily supported as the 4-5 favorite off a 119-day layoff but got off to an inauspicious beginning, hitting the left side of the starting gate at the break. He settled in midpack beneath Ramon Dominguez, rating about three lengths behind the pacesetter down the backstretch.

The Fed Eased (Montbrook) showed the way early on an uncontested lead, establishing moderate splits in :24 3/5, :49 and 1:13 2/5, but came under serious pressure turning for home from 47-1 outsider Norman Asbjornson (Real Quiet), who had been tracking the pace in second throughout. Stay Thirsty was guided about three paths off the rail on the far turn and went after his rivals upon reaching the stretch drive. He struck the front inside the eighth-pole and continued to widen his advantage all the way to the wire, completing 1 1/16 miles over the fast track in 1:44 3/5.

"I thought he ran huge," Pletcher said. "He's coming in off only five breezes, going a mile and a sixteenth, and he hasn't run since November 6. It was very encouraging.

"I was a little concerned when he broke just a step slowly, sort of tossed his head at the break, but he recovered real quickly and put himself in a good spot. I was very, very pleased with the way he finished up. Ramon said he was very handy and was there every time he called on him. He was impressed, as we all were."

"At the very last second he threw up his head and missed the break," Dominguez explained. "On the second jump I barely got after him and he got into the race pretty good, but he was also very relaxed at the same time. That's always a concern after they break like that -- after you encourage them to get into the race they might get too rank. I was very happy with him. He gave me whatever I asked him, and he galloped out very strong, too."

Stay Thirsty, who brushed the runner-up as he surged to the convincing victory, paid $3.80, $3.30 and $2.10 after surviving an objection from the rider of Norman Asbjornson, who held second by a length as the second-longest shot among seven rivals. Whirlaway winner Toby's Corner (Bellamy Road), the second choice at 8-5, offered a belated rally for third and was followed under the finish line by Nacho Saint (Yes It's True), The Fed Eased, Isn't He Perfect (Pleasantly Perfect) and Starship Caesar (Repent). Dawly (Awesome Again) and Preachintothedevil (Pulpit) were scratched.

With the $150,000 payday, Stay Thirsty has now earned $300,000 from his 5-2-2-0 career line. After finishing second in his career debut, he broke his maiden by a 5 1/2-length margin going six furlongs at Saratoga. The dark bay colt recorded a respectable runner-up to Boys at Tosconova (Officer) in the seven-furlong Hopeful, but faltered when trying two turns off a two-month rest in the Breeders' Cup. He was better known as the workmate for unbeaten juvenile champion Uncle Mo (Indian Charlie) prior to Saturday's break-out performance.

"I couldn't be any happier for this horse, because I keep hearing about 'Mo's shadow' and 'stablemate' and this is one of the top six three-year-olds in the country," said Repole, who also owns Uncle Mo. "Today is all about Stay Thirsty and I think he proved that when you get away from Boys At Tosconova and you get away from Uncle Mo, this is a pretty special horse.

"Todd and I will discuss the two options for Stay Thirsty, probably either the Arkansas Derby (G1) (on April 16 at Oaklawn Park) or the Florida Derby (G1) (on April 3 at Gulfstream Park)."

From the first crop of champion three-year-old Bernardini (A.P. Indy), winner of the Preakness (G1), Travers (G1) and Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1), Stay Thirsty has an ideal pedigree for the Kentucky Derby on his dam side. He hails from the winning Storm Bird mare Marozia, who also has produced Grade 3 winner and 2005 Belmont (G1) runner-up Andromeda's Hero; and stakes victor Superfly, both by Fusaichi Pegasus. Stay Thirsty also counts an unnamed juvenile colt by Mr. Greeley as a half-brother.

Marozia is closely related to Grade 1 winners Whywhywhy (Mr. Greeley) and Crisp (El Corredor), and, further back, this female family includes 1946 Horse of the Year and Triple Crown winner Assault; and Prove Out (Graustark), who famously defeated Secretariat in the 1973 Woodward (G1) and also captured the Jockey Club Gold Cup.